Health Resources Healthy Today - Primary Care Saves Lives

A doctor who knows you

How primary care can save your life


“Before the headaches started, he wasn’t himself on the basketball court,” Michelle Tibbs, mother of 16-year-old Dorian, recently told us. “He started playing kind of sloppy.… He was lobbing the ball and had a lot of turnovers.” That night, Dorian was shivering in bed and throwing up.

The emergency room diagnosed him with a sinus infection and sent him home. At urgent care the next day, Michelle told the doctor, “I’ve had sinus infections, I didn’t throw up from them, this is not normal.” Still, the doctor just increased his sinus medications and also sent him home.

Luckily, the Tibbs family had a primary care doctor who had cared for Dorian since birth. “When I walked into the room, I could tell Dorian was extremely sick,” said Dr. Mary Weiss, according to an article in the Seattle Medium. “The difference in what I have with Dorian is I knew him.”

Michelle told us that the family saw their primary care doctor on a Monday afternoon. At 6:00 the next morning, Dorian underwent his first brain surgery. It turns out he was suffering from an infected abscess that was leaking into his brain.

Michelle would meet others on Facebook with the same condition as her son. One slipped into a coma and had 70% of his brain removed, resulting in permanent mental impairment. Another, a 13-year- old, was also turned away with a misdiagnosis eight times and died shortly thereafter.

“‘If you would have been one more day, Michelle, we would have been having a whole different conversation,’” she reports Dr. Weiss told her.

Dorian spent eight days in the Intensive Care Unit, eventually undergoing a total of five brain surgeries.

Today, Dorian is playing basketball again, point guard for Garfield High School’s varsity squad, and he’s on track to attend a Division I college. It’s been a long road back, but it all started with a doctor who knew Dorian’s personality and history, and used that background to find the right diagnosis.

In the US, primary care doctor-patient relationships are on the decline.

According to a 2018 study by the Health Care Cost Institute, primary care office visits dropped by a full 18% in the short period from 2012 to 2016. While a shifting health care market may introduce convenient options like urgent care and direct access to specialists, as the Tibbs family knows, these can’t take the place of a doctor who knows you.

That’s what new PacMed patient Sara had in mind when she visited for the first time this fall. “I’ve had cancer before, and while I’m healthy now,” she says, “I want someone who can follow me in case anything comes up again.”

As a lifelong artist who had just landed a teaching job, Sara also decided to upgrade her health care. PacMed’s connection to the Swedish hospital system was key to her decision: “It’s a good way to get good health care while having access to a top hospital.”

Sara’s first visit to PacMed’s Beacon Hill campus to meet her new doctor didn’t require her to sacrifice any convenience. “Everyone’s been so nice,” she adds. “They were able to schedule me for my labs and scans here on the same day—it’s kind of amazing.”

Sara is on her way to building relationships with doctors who know her and who, as PacMed’s Dr. Andrew Dym puts it, practice medicine in “a deep and persistent culture, with our roots as a Public Health Service hospital.” Whether you’re starting in middle age or have known a doctor from birth, we encourage you to invest in a relationship with a doctor who can get to know you over time.

Michelle Tibbs recommends it: “100 percent—110 percent, yes.”

PacMed’s network of 150+ physicians around Puget Sound includes 72 primary care doctors, with 30 who have been in practice with us over 10 years. Our commitment to establishing long-term doctor-patient relationships hearkens back to the days when family doctors and house calls were the norm.